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The Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee region covers 37 towns spanning Sullivan County and parts of Grafton County. It’s the third-least populated region of New Hampshire after the North Country and White Mountains. And according to recent state data, it also boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the state, at 3.6 percent.
There are, however, clear social and economic differences between the area dominated by Hanover and Lebanon to the north (or “Upper Valley“) and Sullivan County, which is more oriented toward Claremont.
The Upper Valley’s economic edge comes into play thanks to Dartmouth College in Hanover and one of the state’s largest hospitals — Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center — in Lebanon. With its strong academic base and medical industry ties, the Upper Valley is is also home to a burgeoning start-up scene, particularly in the engineering and biomedical engineering arenas. But there are clear differences between the two towns. The median household income in New Hampshire is $63,277, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s compared to $75,417 in Hanover. Lebanon, meanwhile, reports a median household income of $58,153.
Farther to the south, Sullivan County faces more economic challenges. Although Lake Sunapee is a big tourism draw, unlike the Lakes Region and White Mountains, the area doesn’t rake in big money from vacation homes. Only the town of Washington stacks up with the state’s traditional second home markets, with 54 percent of housing stock being seasonal.
Unlike the Upper Valley, which is heavily skewed toward white-collar work and the so-called “knowledge economy,” Sullivan County depends heavily on manufacturing, especially machining. Even after taking heavy manufacturing job losses in the 1990s, the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies reports Sullivan County still “has the highest concentration of manufacturing employment.” Manufacturing also represents 9.6 percent of all businesses in the county, outpacing the rest of the state. Median household income in Sullivan County is also relatively low: $50,689, compared to $63,277 for the state as a whole.